Ancient Answers


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Do you live by love, or by fear?

It seems that my Logos bible software is no longer putting up slides with daily Bible verses, so I have to look elsewhere for illustrated Bible verses. I’m not artistic, so I can’t create my own Bible slides. Today I choose to reflect on 1 John 4:18 φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ, ἀλλ’ ἡ τελεία ἀγάπη ἔξω βάλλει τὸν φόβον, ὅτι ὁ φόβος κόλασιν ἔχει, ὁ δὲ φοβούμενος οὐ τετελείωται ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ – There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. The word κόλασιν is translated as punishment in most English versions, but it can also be more strongly translated as torment. The context of this verse is the final judgment. The sentence immediately preceding (verse 17) tells us “that we may have confidence for the day of judgment.” So it seems obvious that the fear that John refers to in verse 18 is the fear of punishment on the day of judgment.

The only other place in the New Testament where the word κόλασις occurs is in the parable of the sheep and goats (Mathew 25:31-46). At the very end of the parable Jesus sends the goats to “eternal punishment” κόλασιν αἰώνιον. But in the same parable Jesus also refers to the “eternal fire” – τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον – that awaits the devil and his angels. Because Jesus in the parable sends the goats to the eternal fire and torment/punishment of κόλασις, the word κόλασις eventually came to mean “hell”, and that is still its meaning in modern Greek.

So, to go back to 1 John 4:18, fear has to do with hell and punishment. I translate the Greek, ὁ φόβος κόλασιν ἔχει, as “fear has torment in mind.” Or even, “fear has hell in mind”!

But the man or woman who lives in the love of God does not live in fear. And not only fear of punishment or hell, but fear of life! Have you noticed how fearful we have become as a society? We are afraid of terrorism, afraid of hackers, afraid of immigrants, afraid of viruses – but also afraid of vaccines to prevent viruses (figure that one out!) – afraid of the food and water we consume, afraid of going out at night or walking alone, afraid of being stopped by the police, afraid, afraid, afraid… And politicians exploit these fears and magnify them with their own fear-mongering and fake news.

I used to begin my morning by reading the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian in order to get a good summary of real news – not the fake news pushed by others. I will continue to support and subscribe online to these newspapers, as well as our local newspaper, because I believe in the freedom of the press and the essential role that truth-telling newspapers have in a democracy. I trust these newspapers, but if the choice is between real news and fake news, I now prefer to spend  more time with the good news – the good news of Jesus Christ, that is. Not that I’m sticking my head in the sand to avoid knowing what’s going on, but because reading the good news gives me a better perspective when I turn to the New York Times or the Guardian.

There is a culture of fear that has grown disproportionately far beyond the real dangers out there. And fear separates us from our fellow humans. And ultimately fear separates us from God.

But isn’t it strange that the parable of the sheep and goats hardly scares anyone, while we lock our doors and our hearts to the countless fears that preoccupy us? We’re not scared of God because we’ve turned God into a meaningless “higher power” or “the man upstairs” – and these are the wrong reasons for not being afraid of God. We are missing the real reason for not being afraid of God: namely, that God is love and perfect love casts out fear. And perhaps it is love that is missing in our lives, real love – love not rooted in fear or self-interest, but love as God showed love in his Son, Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world….” Think about how love can transform your fears into rational caution rather than irrational fear of everything that moves. Now read the whole passage in the First Letter of John that explains it all, better than I can.


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When did the good news become a gospel?

 

 

 

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Today’s Gospel reading is the first eight verses of the Gospel written by Mark. Here’s how it begins: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet…

The Greek word translated as “gospel” is evangelion = “good news.” So how did “good news” become “gospel”? Or, to put it more pointedly, how did the good news become a gospel – in this instance, the gospel written by Mark? And to take things further along in history, how did the good news of Jesus Christ become a Gospel book? A book kept on the altar table? A book with fancy covers and padlocks on the side? How indeed did the good news become a padlocked book? Can you see the development? Good news = gospel = Gospel book.

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Here’s a story that will help us understand: The children were lined up in a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nuns had made a note and posted it on the apple tray: “Take only ONE, God is watching.” Moving further along the lunch line at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note, “take all you want. . . God is watching the apples.”

That is the difference between good news and religion! Religion tries to limit God and God’s goodness. The good news knows no limits!

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet… You’d say, appropriate words at the beginning of a book. Right? No.

Let’s try this instead: The good news of Jesus the Anointed begins with something Isaiah the prophet wrote….

The word “Christ” comes from Χριστός, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “messiah.” Both the Greek and the Hebrew mean the same thing: “the anointed one.” We should also note that “Son of God” is missing from most of the best early manuscripts, and some modern translations omit the phrase altogether. Perhaps the words were added by a later scribe, when evangelion had ceased to be good news and had become a book; perhaps with the good intention of making the opening sentence a true introduction of a book.

Consider what Luke wrote near the beginning of his book. And again a quote from Isaiah is involved:

Luke 4:16-21 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Verse 19 could be translated more meaningfully as “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s amnesty.” That’s not a literal translation, but that’s what it means. Clearly Isaiah’s reference is to the Old Testament practice of the Jubilee year, when debts were forgiven and all prisoners and slaves were set free. It was a general amnesty. Isaiah was proclaiming such a year. And Jesus came as the fulfillment of the promise.

And here is something else that’s interesting. In reading from Isaiah, Jesus stopped at a key moment. Here is what Isaiah (61:1-2) wrote:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God… 

Did you see that? Jesus left out the day of vengeance! Clearly, vengeance did not fit the good news.

So the bigger question today is: When did good news become good news for some and bad news for everyone else? When did the message of liberty become a message of fear-mongering and threats of eternal punishment? Don’t settle for ONE apple; go for the chocolate chip cookies, and take all you want!